Congee is a classic Chinese rice porridge served at breakfast or at dim sum. Its name comes from the Guangdong province in China, but it is also known as Jook, Juk, Bobar and Okayu across other Asian countries.

This ultimate Chinese comfort food is easy to digest and perfect for convalescents; expecting mothers who are suffering from morning sickness and even as a toddler/child’s meal (without the chilli). The ginger is the magic ingredient that is known to alleviate nausea, delivering a tingling flavour and a comforting aroma. Think of congee as an Asian version of Western chicken soup, which comforts us in the same way.

Using Jasmine rice or long-grain rice, it is reduced down into a silky-smooth, pudding-like consistency, usually in water or stock. Once the congee is ready, this is where the fun starts – the toppings!

My suggested toppings are typical condiments and my favourite. Congee toppings can be as simple or complex as you like.

Served on its own, congee can be very bland, which is why the toppings and additional seasonings are important. However, if you are unwell, stick to plain congee with some ginger and a dash of soy sauce, then upgrade to more toppings as you feel better.

My favourite topping is the Chinese doughnut (Youtiao) which are light and chewy fried dough sticks that are a staple breakfast snack across China and other parts of Asia. Very few households make them from scratch as they are readily available. Unfortunately, not many sell a gluten-free version. If you miss and like them as much as I do, here’s a great recipe to follow. Often, I make a big batch and freeze them. They can be heated up straight from frozen in the oven, which makes things easier first thing in the morning.

The good news is that this recipe explains how to make congee overnight in the slow cooker/crockpot which is perfect if you want a warm breakfast waiting for you. The longer the congee cooks, the thicker it becomes as it continues to absorb water and releases its starch from the rice grains. You can’t overcook congee. It is relatively foolproof. Only the consistency needs to be adjusted with more liquid.

Feel organised by preparing all the listed condiments the night before.

I know not everyone has a slow cooker, but congee can be made over the stove. I have listed the steps for this method as well.

If you make a big portion, simply refrigerate the congee for up to 3 days and reheat on the stove or in the microwave adding more liquid to thin out the congee.

So, if you fancy trying something different for breakfast, I highly recommend Congee.

Chicken Congee with Gluten-Free Chinese Doughnuts

For the congee:

  • 250g Jasmine rice or long-grain white rice
  • 2 litres water
  • 4 chicken legs or thighs (skin removed off all of them, except one)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 slices fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
  • Tamari or gluten-free soy sauce, to season
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper (optional)

For the suggested toppings:

  • 4 spring onions, white and some green parts, sliced
  • 4 slices fresh ginger, cut into thin strips
  • Tamari or gluten-free soy sauce, to season
  • Roasted peanuts
  • Fresh coriander/cilantro leaves
  • Smoked tofu, cut into cubes (adds a nice Unami flavour)
  • 4 gluten-free Chinese doughnuts, sliced
  • Sesame oil, to season
  • White pepper, to season
  • Freshly sliced chilli
  • Chilli sauce
  • 1 egg per person, preferably softly boiled

Step-by-Step Instructions for slow cooker method:

1. Place all the congee ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 10 hours or HIGH for 5 hours.

2. The congee should appear creamy and slightly thick. Remove the chicken and ginger. Shred the chicken and return the meat minus the bones and skin to the congee.

3. Stir the congee well and scrape the bottom of the slow cooker to ensure nothing is sticking.

4. If you prefer a thinner congee, add some hot water until the desired consistency is achieved.

5. Just before serving, add some Tamari or gluten-free soy sauce and white pepper to season the congee.

6. Ladle a serving of congee into a soup bowl and top with all or some of the listed suggested toppings.

7. Taste and add more seasoning, if necessary.

8. Serve with some fresh chilli or chilli sauce on the side, plus a softly boiled egg.

Step-by-Step Instructions for stovetop method:

1. Using the same ingredients and quantities, add the water or stock, rice, salt and ginger into a large pot.

2. Bring to the boil, then immediately reduce the heat to a low simmer.

3. Cover and simmer on a very low heat for roughly 1 ½ hours or until the congee is thick and creamy.

4. Stir occasionally to prevent the congee from sticking.

5. The congee should appear creamy and slightly thick. Remove the chicken and ginger. Shred the chicken and return the meat minus the bones and skin to the congee.

6. Serve the same way as in the slow cooker method.

For the Gluten-Free Chinese doughnuts:
  • 200g store-bought or homemade gluten-free plain flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 180ml water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Tapioca flour, for rolling and sprinkling
  • 1 litre vegetable or sunflower oil, for frying

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Combine the gluten-free plain flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, dry yeast, salt, egg and water in a large bowl.

2. Mix well until it becomes a sticky dough.

3. Cover and rest it for 20 minutes.

4. Add the vegetable oil to your hands and rub them together. Immediately, start kneading the dough in the bowl until it becomes smoother.

5. Cover the dough with plastic film and leave to rest for a further hour.

6. Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a floured surface. Add small amounts of gluten-free flour if the dough seems sticky.

7. Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 cm, into a long rectangular shape.

8. Using a dough scraper or knife, cut small strips measuring 2cm by 8cm.

9. Sprinkle tapioca flour over the dough strips to prevent them from sticking.

10. Dip a chopstick in water and press it in the centre of the dough strip, parallel to the longest side.

11. Flip it over and place another dough strip on top, repeat by pressing the centre of the 2nd dough strip.

12. Cover the assembled dough strip and continue with the remainder.
13. Heat the oil to a temperature of 200 C/400 F or until a small piece of dough fried golden in 30 seconds.

14. Before frying the dough, lengthen each dough strip by holding both ends and stretch it slightly.

15. Gently lower the dough strip into the hot oil and keep turning it every few seconds for the first 30 seconds.
16. Leave it to fry without moving it for 30 seconds more.

17. Flip it over one last time and fry a further 30 seconds.

18. Remove and drain on a paper towel.
Makes 9 doughnut strips

Any excess doughnuts can be sliced and frozen. They can be heated up straight from frozen in the oven